In the upcoming days, the details surrounding the state's next budget should begin to become public as legislative leadership and the governor's office work through negotiations and determine how to account for the multi-million dollar budget shortfall.
Some may see this shortfall as a negative because it will force state leaders to cut the amount of money they control through the budget process. I believe these cuts are a fantastic opportunity, because the shortfall will force legislative leaders and agency officials to do what they would have not taken the time to do when state government largesse was increasing. It is actually in a downturn when money is less plentiful that taxpayer accountability improves, because unnecessary functions of state government are eliminated and pork spending is not as easily dispensed by politicians who wish to buy the loyalty of their constituencies.
You may recall in past years how I have described that the bills that make up the budget process are often released late in the session and have historically involved a significant amount of last-minute spending that I believe to be inappropriate. Two years ago, this spending was in the form of an excess spending bill known as the "spill over bill," which was later held to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Last year, the spending took the form of bonded indebtedness which was also unconstitutional.
This year, however, I expect taxpayers to emerge from the budget process as winners. Because of the economic downturn, the government will actually have to get smaller and eliminate some of the pork and waste from the spending process. Legislative leaders are hard at work exposing and eliminating inappropriate spending and it now appears that a number of pork programs known as "pass-throughs" will have to be eliminated and the remainder greatly reduced in size.
Legislative pass-throughs are funds given to agencies with directions from the Legislature to pass on to a private organization. That organization may use the funds for a good cause but in my view, the process is very subject to corruption and not as subject to accountability, because the private organization could easily serve as a funnel to pass the money on any number of other entities. I believe these types of funding arrangements have been at the heart of previously documented corruption in Oklahoma politics that is still being prosecuted by federal authorities.
It has been exciting to observe the process by which legislative leaders are now engaging as they fold up these pass-throughs. It is especially interesting when they justify the elimination of a pass-through by observing that it is acceptable to stop funding because it appears that the entity is not doing much with the funding. In other words, had it not been for the shortfall, these groups would still be getting money with little or no measurable return on the investment.
Unfortunately, some of the necessary reduction in the size of government will not occur because of an influx of federal stimulus money. These stimulus funds will prop up state governments all across the nation and keep them from doing the hard work of cutting the size of their governments after years of irresponsible increases in state government spending.
I will keep you informed as the budget takes form over the next three weeks and hope to be able to continue to report some very good news about your taxpayer dollars.